Nobody likes to endure an upset or illness in the digestive system, whether it is a simple stomachache or something more severe. Sometimes, new or recurring symptoms can feel miserable, overwhelming, and even scary. Whether to visit a primary care physician or a gastroenterologist (GI) is a question many people wonder when they find themselves needing help with digestive-related issues.
What does a gastroenterologist do?
A gastroenterologist, or GI, is a doctor who specializes in preventing and treating diseases of the digestive tract, which includes the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon and rectum, pancreas, gallbladder, bile ducts, and liver. While a primary care physician is also trained in some of the more common illnesses associated with the digestive tract, a GI has been through hours upon hours of specialized training and best understands this system’s function as well as lesser-known diseases.
Diseases that are commonly treated by a GI include cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, gallbladder disease, GERD, hemorrhoids, polyps, ulcers, and pancreatitis. Additionally, primary care physicians may refer patients to a GI doctor for routine tests, such as colonoscopies.
Symptom red flags
So, what are reasons to visit a GI doctor instead of your PCP? First, if you’re experiencing new symptoms, it’s best to check first with your primary care doctor. He or she can run standard tests and check for more common illnesses or issues. If they feel you need more specialized care, they’ll refer you to a GI who will probably be covered by your insurance or who works within Hancock Health System.
If you have a chronic, or ongoing, digestive issue, you will need to remain under the care of a GI who can help to manage any symptoms, medications, or other manifestations of your illness. In this case, a GI is preferable over a primary care doctor because they have in-depth medical training specific to your illness.
Some other reasons you may need to see a GI include:
- Abnormal bowel movements, such as ongoing constipation or diarrhea
- Rectal bleeding
- Frequent heartburn
- Chronic abdominal pain and bloating
- Pain in the esophagus or difficulty swallowing
It is best to check with your primary care doctor first before heading to a specialist, but in some cases, you may need a second opinion from a GI for peace of mind. Gastroenterologists are trained to look for diseases of the digestive tract that may be missed in routine exams from a family practitioner or internist. Hancock Health System welcomed a new GI specialist to our staff this summer, Dr. Ma’n Abdullah. Call for an appointment today, 317-477-6360.